Current Exhibition

The Exhibition that Never Was

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition,
The Book Club of California,
& A Century of Fine Books

Curated by Dr. Henry L. Snyder, Book Club Librarian

September 28 – December 7, 2015

Only a few years after the most catastrophic natural disaster in the Bay Area’s history, San Francisco demonstrated its remarkable audacity, ambition, ingenuity, and imagination when it opened the Panama‑Pacific International Exposition on February 20, 1915. Spanning ten months and attracting almost nineteen million fairgoers, the PPIE celebrated not only the completion of the Panama Canal, but the resilience and vitality of a city so recently in shambles, and established once and for all that the City by the Bay was a thriving cultural center.

In 1912, seeking to ensure that the Bay Area’s rich heritage of fine printing, binding, publishing, and book collecting would be duly represented at the PPIE, a group of San Francisco bibliophiles proposed an exhibition of book arts for inclusion at the fair. When advised that their proposal would carry more weight if made by an official entity, this group founded the Book Club of California, an organization dedicated to “the study of letters and the promotion of the arts pertaining to the production of book.” The proposed PPIE exhibition was never realized. Instead, the original founders were joined by others (for a total of fifty‑eight charter members) and began a century‑long (and counting!) legacy of programs, exhibitions, and publications designed to promote and encourage the highest standards of bookmaking through excellence in scholarship, writing, design, and production.

Since its founding in 1912, the Book Club of California has held to its commitment to promote and foster the art of the book, and this exhibition traces the evolution of that endeavor. In the first display case you will find a selection of books that likely would have been on view at the original PPIE—a snapshot of the book arts in San Francisco during the early twentieth century. In the second display case we feature a century’s worth of items that each in its way relates to the history of our Club and its evolution as a haven for the appreciation of fine printing, binding, typography, illustration, literature, bibliography, and the history of the book in California and the West. All the books on display are drawn from the collections of the Book Club of California.

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